Improvement of sensory neuron growth and survival via negatively regulating PTEN by miR-21-5p-contained small extracellular vesicles from skin precursor-derived Schwann cells

Stem Cell Res Ther. 2021 Jan 25;12(1):80. doi: 10.1186/s13287-020-02125-4.


Background: Patients with peripheral nerve injury (PNI) often suffer from hypoxic ischemic impairments, in particular when combined with vascular damage, causing neuronal dysfunction and death. Increasing attention has been paid on skin precursor-derived Schwann cells (SKP-SCs), and previous study has shown that SKP-SCs could promote sensory recovery after cell therapy for PNI, resembling the effect of naive SCs, and SKP-SC-derived extracellular vesicles (SKP-SC-EVs) are putatively supposed to be promising therapeutic agents for neural regeneration.

Methods: SKPs were induced to differentiate towards SCs with cocktail factors (N2, neuregulin-1β, and forskolin) in vitro. SKP-SC-EVs were isolated by exoEasy Maxi Kit and characterized by morphology and phenotypic markers of EVs. Rat sensory neurons from dorsal root ganglions (DRGs) were primarily cultured in regular condition or exposed to oxygen-glucose-deprivation (OGD) condition. SKP-SC-EVs were applied to DRGs or sensory neurons, with LY294002 (a PI3K inhibitor) added; the effect on neurite outgrowth and cell survival was observed. Moreover, microRNA (miR) candidate contained in SKP-SC-EVs was screened out, and miR-mimics were transfected into DRG neurons; meanwhile, the negative regulation of PTEN/PI3K/Akt axis and downstream signaling molecules were determined.

Results: It was shown that SKP-SC-EVs could improve the neurite outgrowth of DRGs and sensory neurons. Furthermore, SKP-SC-EVs enhanced the survival of sensory neurons after OGD exposure by alleviating neuronal apoptosis and strengthening cell viability, and the expression of GAP43 (a neuron functional protein) in neurons was upregulated. Moreover, the neuro-reparative role of SKP-SC-EVs was implicated in the activation of PI3K/Akt, mTOR, and p70S6k, as well as the reduction of Bax/Bcl-2 ratio, that was compromised by LY294002 to some extent. In addition, transferring miR-21-5p mimics into sensory neurons could partly protect them from OGD-induced impairment.

Conclusions: Sum up, SKP-SC-EVs could improve neurite outgrowth of DRG sensory neurons in physiological and pathological condition. Moreover, the in vitro therapeutic potential of SKP-SC-EVs on the survival and restoration of OGD-injured sensory neurons was evidenced to be associated with miR-21-5p contained in the small EVs and miR-21-5p/PTEN/PI3K/Akt axis.

Keywords: Extracellular vesicles; Growth; MicroRNAs; PI3K/Akt; PTEN; Schwann cells; Sensory neurons; Skin precursors; Survival.